Irrespective of gender, many of those in leadership positions have had to invest more in building flexibility into their teams whilst offering a more empathetic approach to supporting employees in the face of adversity. These workplace changes are underlined with the mounting pressure of maintaining and growing sales and structure, which for many businesses, have suffered over the last 12 months.
With these pressures in mind, it begs the question of what is flexible working like for women? During the pandemic, with strict lockdown measures and no external childcare, many women have had to take a step back from their careers. Figures from a July 2020 study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that women carried out two-thirds of childcare responsibilities during the first lockdown, delivering an average of over three hours of childcare duties per day. When combining childcare duties alongside a full-time job, it is not difficult to see how the consistent lockdowns could have added to an already significant workload for working mothers. This burden would likely have been easier when work and personal life was completely separate, with individuals commuting to a workplace on a day-to-day basis and children being looked after with external help.
However, there are benefits of flexible working arrangements, which the UK Government has rightfully acknowledged. On 5 March, Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, in her capacity as the Minister for Women and Equalities, called for employers across the UK to make flexible working a standard option for employees. Truss argued that such a move would help level-up the UK, reduce geographic inequality, and boost women’s opportunities as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though this sentiment from the UK Government is positive, employers and corporate occupiers were already considering flexible working en-masse. The pandemic has just served to supercharge this process. It is worth noting, however, that all employees currently have a legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. Accordingly, we have seen a recent shift among occupiers toward the ‘hub-and-spoke’ office model, which may accelerate further as a result of this trend towards agile working and government announcement.
Our collective view is that adding flexibility is key. Corporates are already moving towards a future with a more geographically dispersed workforce, and in turn, talent will need regional hubs where the focus will be engagement in service-led environments with seamless connectivity.
As female leaders at DeVono, we recognise that many of our staff, especially women, have required more flexibility and support through this period of enormous change. Ensuring that team motivation levels are maintained during this extended period of remote working has been a challenge for all leaders, but it is imperative to remodel certain working practices to accommodate this ‘new normal’.
DeVono knew a more accommodating flexible working policy needed to be put in place as soon as possible. We adapted quickly to the changing market dynamics and restructured many areas of its internal functions, helping to facilitate long-term growth. The way we measure output and engagement has been adjusted too, and we’ve also evolved our offering to provide what our clients need during and post-pandemic. We’ve also been working closely with all our partners to support organisations with workplace solutions that align with their people and business aspirations.
For us and many others, corporate culture is crucial, and to best cultivate that, you need a fixed base as part of that strategy. The prolonged WFH mandate has tested everyone and had a huge impact on us all as individuals, each with our own realities to deal with, both personal and professional, as well as on the office industry at large. Buildings are still standing, but the people are absent, and we are missing out on interpersonal connections on a scale never experienced before.
Whilst the concept of remote and flexible working has many benefits attributed to a better work-life balance, there is a looming question around how to ensure that this doesn’t affect the ability of employees to develop key skills and grow their careers. Some of the drawbacks to working remotely can potentially impact your ability to build strong relationships internally and externally, combined with a lack of visibility and access to key senior members of the business who can facilitate your growth and career. Working full-time on a remote basis, or even just increasing remote working, is something to carefully consider when aligning the needs of your business and teams with your individual long-term goals.
At DeVono, we work closely with companies that are reviewing their workplace strategy to help them find solutions that best support their business and people. We focus on striking the right balance based on a company’s dynamics and commercial needs, including our own and how we help women achieve gender parity in the workplace.
For this International Women’s Day, we should acknowledge the benefits of flexible working arrangements and how it can benefit women and their careers. However, it would be a mistake to disregard the critical advantages of face-to-face interaction in fostering women’s career development. We also acknowledge that there are still many challenges facing women in the workplace relating to equality and the gender pay gap, which are apparent across sectors. Women must continue to strive for equitable representation and fair treatment in the commercial real estate industry and beyond.
Stephanie Cowles is the Director of Client Services.